Wanted: a loving home


An increase in foster kids puts pressure on OHEL

By Yaffi Spodek

Issue of July 3, 2009 / 11 Tammuz 5769

OHEL Family and Children’s Services has recently experienced a significant increase in Jewish foster children, leading to a greater need for foster parents.

“These are Jewish children who have for a number of reasons been removed from ACS [Administration for Children’s Services] in New York State and because they are Jewish children, have been directed to OHEL,” explained Derek Saker, OHEL’s director of communications. “The situation is very immediate as we are experiencing a shortage of Jewish foster homes.”

Though many are unaware of the existence of this problem in the Jewish community, “tragically, some children need to be removed from their homes because their parents are incapacitated and can’t take care of them,” said Saker.

In the month of June alone, OHEL placed five children in foster homes, including a two-year-old just this past shabbos.

“We take Jewish children of all affiliations and all different cultural backgrounds, and there is also a cross section of ages from infants to adolescents,” said Shelly Berger, OHEL’s director of foster care. “We try to have a diverse group of foster parents so that when we do get a child, we do our best to meet the child’s needs and place them in a home where they would be most comfortable.”

Though she cannot pinpoint the reason behind the current surge, Berger is appealing to the Jewish community for help. “Right now we seem to have suddenly gotten a lot of children in a short period of time,” she told The Jewish Star. “When that happens, you start to feel that you want to be more proactive in replenishing and expanding your pool of foster parents.”

A potential foster parent may be a young couple with no children of their own, or an older family with an established infrastructure and other children. “To decide to become a foster parent is a process that can take several months,” Berger noted. “But for those families who have been thinking about it, now is the moment for you to make the call to get the information. The need is there and a number of placements seem to be on the upswing.”

Though foster care is designed to be a temporary situation, each case is unique. “Sometimes a foster chid becomes an adopted child, but thankfully many do go back to their biological parents, and that is the ideal, provided it is a safe environment,” said Saker.

“However,” he continued, “the real factor here is the emotional sacrifice that one makes. The only thing more special than an OHEL foster child is an OHEL foster parent. It’s not just that you’re providing a loving home for a child, but your home is also immeasurably enriched... It can be a life-changing event for a family.”

For more information on becoming a foster parent, call OHEL at (718) 851-6300.